A former Staples Inc. executive whose fraud and bribery convictions in the sprawling college admissions cheating scandal were thrown out by an appeals court was sentenced on Friday to six months of home confinement for a tax offense.
John Wilson, 64, of Lynnfield, Massachusetts, was sentenced in Boston’s federal appeals court months after the 1st U.S. Circut Court of Appeals threw out nearly all of his convictions in the so-called Operation Varsity Blues case. The appeals court upheld Wilson’s conviction on a charge of filing a false tax return.
Wilson was sentenced to one year of probation, with the first six months to be served in home confinement, according to the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office. He was also ordered to complete 250 hours of community service and pay a $75,000 fine.
Prosecutors alleged at trial Wilson paid $220,000 to have his son designated as a University of Southern California water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters’ ways into Harvard and Stanford. Prosecutors also alleged he improperly deducted the payments he made to secure his son’s admission as a business expense and charitable donation.
Wilson has insisted he believed the payments — made through the ringleader of the admissions scheme, Rick Singer — were legitimate donations. He has said that his children were all qualified to get into the schools on their own athletic and academic merit.
“John Wilson did not commit fraud, he did not bribe any universities, and he did not partake in a grand conspiracy,” his attorney, Michael Kendall, said in a statement Friday.
Wilson said it is “clear to all” that he was telling the truth that he did not violate any laws or school policies.
“After almost five years of being falsely accused and then wrongly convicted, my family and I are relieved to see our nightmare end. I have spent years defending my innocence and the reputations of my children,” he said in an emailed statement.
Wilson was originally sentenced last year to 15 months in prison after jurors found him guilty of charges including fraud and bribery conspiracy in October 2021. The judge, however, allowed him to remain free while he pursued his appeal.
The appeals court that overturned the jury’s decision said the trial judge was wrong in instructing the jury that an admissions slot constitutes “property” of the universities under the mail and wire fraud law. The judges found that the government also failed to prove that Wilson and another parent agreed to join the “overarching conspiracy among Singer and his clients.”
More than 50 people were ultimately convicted in the college admissions bribery scandal that revealed a scheme to get kids into top schools with rigged test scores and bogus athletic credentials.